“Can I Get a Witness” from the album Nobody’s Fault But Mine
“You Don’t Know What You Mean to Me”
Edwin McCain deserves credit. A decade after scoring a major alternative rock hit with a catchy tune called “I’ll Be,” the wide-eyed Carolinian has circled back to his earliest musical experiences and generated some deeply American music.
“I’ll Be” played a major part in establishing the twangy, collegiate-friendly “Carolina sound” that grew so popular a decade ago with Hootie & The Blowfish. However, the songwriter’s brand-new album, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, reaches way back to the soul and vintage rock ‘n’ roll sounds from the earliest days of pop music.
While there’s always been a tinge of blue-eyed soul in the Greenville-based musician’s more straightforward roots-rock material, this funky new collection is raw, well-arranged, and gutsy — hardly the work of a lightweight strummer repeating himself.
“This is really how I started out, totally influenced by that sort of soul music,” says McCain, speaking from the tour bus during his band’s trip through Texas last week. He sounds like a normal guy, undistracted or corrupted by the ups and downs of major music biz success, and grateful for the chance to collaborate and play. “I feel fortunate getting to do this and go back to soul music and what I really like. I’ve been singing in this style for a while with a lot of other stuff — even on some of the stuff that made it to the radio.”
McCain describes the new album as a collection of “vintage R&B and classic Southern soul songs.” The 15 tracks, produced by Tor Hyams (Joan Osborne, Tricky), take the funkiest bits of Motown, Stax, Muscle Shoals, and New Orleans — from Ike Turner and the Temptations to Otis Redding and popular gospel stylings. McCain adds his own earthy vocal style with confidence and feeling.
“It’s kind of a funky, old soul record,” he says. “It was something I wanted to do for a while. Kevn Kinney [a longtime friend, of Atlanta band drivn’ n’ cryin’] had been giving me a hard time for a long time about doing a smokin’ soul record. I thought, ‘Man, I don’t know who’d pay for it!’ Then a subsidiary of Time-Warner stepped in and said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to hear you sing these songs.’ It was wild, man — really one of the things that really came together. It was too cool of an opportunity to pass up.”
“I looked at almost 400 songs initially, then I told the label which ones I wanted to do … then they told me what they wanted to do,” he adds. “Between us, it worked out, and we agreed on 15 songs.”
The newly established Saguaro Road label was launched by Direct Holdings Americas Inc., which markets and sells audio and video entertainment products under the Time-Life trademark, which it uses under license from Time Warner Inc. “Saguaro Road is dedicated to presenting newly recorded American roots music,” says Direct Holdings exec Mike Jason. “When we heard Edwin’s song choices, we knew we had both the right artist and the right creative fit.”
On Nobody’s Fault But Mine, McCain managed to collaborate with some seriously heavy blues and soul cats and session players — legendary musicians like guitarist Steve Cropper (of Booker T & The MG’s), organist Ivan Neville (of Dumpstaphunk), critically-acclaimed Nashville session drummer Eddie Bayers, and vocalist Joan Osborne. McCain loved the new experience of recording songs originated by someone other than himself — and he especially enjoyed shaping them into a tough, tight, authentically soulful album.
“The way that we recorded the album had a lot to do with the raw sound,” says McCain. “When we prepared to go into the studio, we decided to record the songs the way they were originally recorded, which meant setting everything up and just doing it all live with just a couple of takes. There’s very little messing around. We were pretty much two takes and out — good and out!”
McCain’s current backing includes longtime lead guitarist Larry Chaney, guitarist/singer Pete “Liverpool” Riley, sax player and keyboardist Craig Shields, bassist Manolo “Manny” Yanes, and newly-enlisted drummer Markeya “Tez” Sherard.
“We’ve got it down to a five piece,” McCain says of his band. “Craig obviously has the big sax solo thing going, so it’s good that way, but we don’t have a whole section going on yet. Maybe if the album starts doing real good, we’ll bring one on! This direction certainly is a lot of fun, that’s for sure. It’s not over-thought, and it isn’t thought-provoking. It’s just good clean fun.”